Making Room for Fatherhood

Posted June 13, 2014

This past week the White House hosted the first ever event that focused on the role of men in parenting. This event was precipitated, in part, by the recent decision of New York Mets second base player Daniel Murphy’s to miss the first two games of the season to be present for the birth of his son. His decision was met with catty and arguably misogynistic comments from sport commentators and the like. But the backlash to those comments ended up being far stronger than the backlash against Mr. Murphy – a father who clearly understands that the birth of your child is more important than catching a fly ball.

It was disheartening to me that, as far as we have come, we still discredit fathers when they chose to be fatherly. How is this any different than discrediting mothers who chose to be professionals? When will we accept that the path to equality is empowering all of us?

Most men become fathers because they want the joy of raising a child, yet as s society we discourage and diminish their role as parents and place all responsibility squarely on women. At the White House event, many fathers described a “persistent stigma, at work and in society, at the prospect of stepping up their caregiving role.” In many ways, this is an understatement. When men choose parenting over career demands, they are often chastised (as in the case of Mr. Murphy) or honored to the point of comedy as in the recent case of the viral picture of Doyin Richards, who wisely noted that instead of reacting like his effort deserved a statue in his honor we instead recognize that “moms are doing the same damn thing every day without receiving a thank you or an ooooh or an ahhhh.”

But let’s face it, the reality is that it is not about mom’s doing more in the workplace or dad’s doing more at home, it is about understanding that just as women struggle with work-family balance, so do men. While women face the challenge on the work-side of life, men often face it on the home-side. It is not until we recognize that equal is equal that we can truly achieve equality.

When Anne and I launched ILLUME there were two dad’s who truly made it possible. The first is Eric, Anne’s husband, who since the birth of their daughter has been her primary care giver. Eric got his PhD, worked in a rigorous academic job, and was writing a book all while putting in pigtails, making lunches and managing a vast play date schedule. It was not uncommon to find Eric teaching a class with young Jonie sitting among the students. Eric would say, “I am not going to pretend I don’t have a family. If I can’t bring my daughter to a gender studies class, where can I?” Anyone who knows Anne’s family will tell you that it has been Eric’s dedication to parenting and unflinching support of Anne that gave her the time, freedom, and support to launch ILLUME.


Eric with Jonie. Jonie with her “babies.”

The second was my dad, Bill. While he was not managing play dates and pigtails for my two boys, he did do all those things for me. At age six I lived with my dad, and he had never braided hair, or cooked a meal from scratch, but he managed through it. I had a bad bowl hair cut and more “doctored pizza’s” than one can imagine, but he took on the role of care giver and nurture all while growing his career. As I grew and as I became an adult he instilled in me the notion that there is not women’s work or men’s work in raising a family – or in the work world for that matter. Instead, there is just work, and you do it with love, commitment and passion. So long as you ground yourself in your family, you should feel free to create partnerships and follow your heart. All of these things should be celebrated.

Young Sara with Bill.

For me and Anne, a large part of the ILLUME vision is about creating a workplace that honors the other loves in your life. So much lip service is given to letting women be mothers and professionals, but let’s not forget the value of letting men be professionals and dads. Let’s celebrate the role models on both sides. Let’s level that playing field to the benefit of all.

As we head into fathers day we want to thank Eric, thank Bill, and thank all the other dad’s out there who are asking that they not be made hero’s for being a good dad. Lets celebrate the men who parent for no other reason than for the love for their children. And let us all find ways to support them. In doing so, we create a better future everyone – and most importantly – our children.